My guess is that, whatever you lead, you
Want to lead an aligned organization
See as much agreement in your organization as you can
Find and cultivate consensus
Let me go out on a limb here and guess that it’s been a struggle.
Aligning people around a common mission, vision and strategy is hard work.
Getting people to agree is difficult.
And finding consensus can sometimes seem impossible.
I get that. I’ve been there.
The trap I’ve seen so many leaders fall into is that they approach alignment, agreement and consensus backwards.
Many (if not most) leaders try to get:
I’ve tried that too.
The problem with that approach is it almost never works. In fact, it’s backwards.
When you figure out the right order, it can change how you lead forever, and help everyone involved.
If you miss it, it can leave you and everyone you lead floundering.
Consider this: when the automobile was first invented, almost nobody saw how big the car would become. The Literary Digest wrote:
“The ordinary “horseless carriage” is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and although its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle.”
Consensus about the car developed after the car was introduced. Not before.
The application to your situation is direct.
So let’s get at it.
Let’s say you want to engineer some change. It could be a big change (like completely changing the way you do church) or a smaller one (like asking group leaders to serve every week, rather than once a month). The dynamics of change are almost all the same.
Here’s how most leaders typically try to lead change. It leaves people (especially you) frustrated. It is almost never effective:
1. Try to get consensus. Many leaders try to engineer change by getting consensus first. You poll leaders, ask their opinion, and discover that many don’t like your ideas. They like it the way it was, not the way you or your team think it should be.
2. Despair over the absence of agreement. Since you can’t find consensus, you can’t find agreement and as a result, you don’t make the change.
3. Remain unaligned. Alignment isn’t even an issue because you can’t align people who can’t agree and don’t share a consensus on how things should be. The change doesn’t happen and alignment is elusive because everyone is committed to their vision of how things should be.
So what do you do?
Effective leaders have learned that if you flip the sequence, change happens and you can end up with alignment, agreement and consensus.
The key is to reverse the order in which you seek all three.
1. Begin with alignment. Find a few leaders who share your vision and new strategy and move out from there. The progressive leaders are there. You just have to find them.
Once you find a small tribe in favour of change, listen to the rest of your team. Share the vision. Get input, but don’t seek agreement yet and certainly don’t seek consensus. It will leave you dead in the water. Once you have even a small team committed to the change, begin to roll out the change. Gently, with humility, but firmly and with resolve and a view to the long haul, introduce the change. Take time to explain why and encourage people to make the change. Sure, some will leave (I wrote about how to handle opposition when you’re leading change here). But you’re building a new core committed to a better future.
2. Once the change begins, start looking for agreement. Here’s the magic. Don’t miss this. If the change is effective, you will begin to see agreement. People who were on the fence or even opposed might start coming on board. This team can form the core of a tribe of ‘vision casters’ for the future. You will see your team of committed change agents grow from a few to a few more, and eventually maybe to many more.
3. Watch consensus develop. Once the change is implemented and becomes effective, consensus emerges that the change was a good idea. People can’t imagine going back to the way it was. Some dissenters may leave, which is fine and inevitable, but effective change creates a new consensus (if you are concerned about hurting people, read this on how not to crush people when they leave.) As you and your team stay true to the mission vision and strategy you’ve embraced, alignment, agreement and consensus will grow.
Bottom line: Agreement and consensus almost always come on the other side of change.
Conversely, if you look for agreement and consensus before you change, you won’t change.
If you execute this approach with a deep humility, a firm resolve and if the change you seek to implement is actually a good idea, your chances of successfully negotiating the change go up dramatically by beginning with alignment, then looking for agreement and finally watching consensus emerge.
What are you learning about change? What would you add to this?